Candidates square off on best approach to budget crisis
Editor's note: Each week until the April 1 local election, The Eudora News will ask the candidates about different issues facing the Board of Education. Look for profiles on each of the candidates in the March 27 issue.
In the last six months, it's been almost impossible to pick up a newspaper or turn on a news broadcast without hearing about Kansas and other states struggling with a dwindling budget. Of all the areas affected by state budget cuts, education has probably drawn the most attention. Eudora USD 491 hasn't been immune from worrying about its finances, either.
Candidate and former Board President Marion Johnson said he saw the the lack of state funding being a problem in upcoming years. Newcomer Mark Salmans said in addition to a lack of money from the state, the district was between a rock and a hard place with securing other funding, too.
"There's no place really to go because the community doesn't have the tax base to make up the what the state won't give them," he said.
Incumbent Greg Neis said the Board's biggest challenge was the uncertainty that came with relying on the state for money.
"They tell you they're going to give us (funding) and then they don't," he said. "It's much more difficult to deal with than if they said they weren't."
Fellow incumbent Kenny Massey said one of the biggest budget challenges was stretching the money wisely while keeping the district's purpose -- educating children -- in the forefront.
Dealing with it
A main way to overcome budget obstacles, Neis said, was for the Board to keep spending at bay throughout the year. Because districts are forced to give back excess money to the state at the end of the fiscal year, Neis said that was the time to spend leftover money on non-priority items.
Johnson said he liked what the Board had been doing to deal with the budget, including an exercise it completed recently that allowed the Board to prioritize line items in the budget. Massey agreed with the value of the exercise, saying it would allow the Board to take a responsible approach to spending taxpayers' money by having an objective method to make cuts if they were necessary.
If cuts were to be made to overcome budget obstacles, Salmans said the Board should first look at what programs were really affecting students' lives and which ones weren't making much of a difference.
Whatever the district may have to do to pare down its offerings, some items weren't negotiable, the candidates said. Core classes and other things that directly affected the education of the district's students were untouchable, Massey said. The district could look at non-academic items to cut, he said.
Moreover, Neis said, the state required the district to offer core classes and failing to do so would mean a loss of funding.
"You're not going to keep a football program over an English teacher," he said.
In addition to maintaining academic quality and core classes, Johnson said the Board should also be mindful of classroom quality as well.
"I want to keep the class sizes as small as possible and still stay in the constraints the Board has to operate under," he said.
Even though salaries compose most of the budget, Salmans said, "You want to continue funding teachers' salaries."
Because they save the district aggregate amounts of money, Salmans said the Board shouldn't cut small items, like pens and pencils, even if that meant having to battle public perception.
"Schools can end up becoming the big green monster because it is the one that eats up all of the taxes," he said.
Next week: See what the USD 491 Board of Education candidates have to say about the Board's impact in the classroom.